Over 350 miles of high-country ATV trails beckon in central Utah canyons, forest
Utah is famous for the geographical drama of its vast, red canyons; Bryce, Moab, Canyonlands, Arches and Zion are recognized as top destinations for desert adventure.
But it’s a lesser-known landscape in central Utah that is starting to gain momentum as a destination for riders of ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and OHVs (off-highway vehicles) – and as a perfect fit for RVers and their toy haulers.
To say that the Arapeen Trail System is off the beaten path is – at the least – an understatement.
Winding through the Manti-La Sal National Forest, the extensive network – over 350 miles – of remote, backcountry trails takes ATV riders from a dry, desert-like environment to a 10,000-foot mountain ridgeline, with high alpine forests and lakes, plenty of wildlife and camping options galore.
Whether you seek solitude or the bumpy thrills of four-wheeling, this cool, green oasis – with its 12,000-foot mountain peaks – is a welcome break from straight desert terrain.
Better yet, the Sanpete Valley is dotted with small, ATV-friendly communities, where no one bats an eye when riders rumble down out of the mountains to fill up at the gas station or grab lunch.
The valley boasts 10 major canyons that are open to ATV exploration, and nearly every small town along the way offers some kind of canyon access, said John McClellan, president of the Skyline ATV Trail-Riders Clubs, in Mt. Pleasant, which sponsors group trail rides, among other volunteer work.
“What I love about the trail is that we have such diverse scenery,” said McClellan, who has ridden ATVs since he was a child. “You go from sagebrush desert here in the bottom to high-country lakes, ponds and streams, reaching over 10,000 feet above sea level, well above the timberline, in about 45 minutes.”
From personal experience, McClellan finds the trail system “very well laid out and well mapped.
“You have beginning trails all the way up to roads that are quite difficult – it really depends upon what you want to ride on. They’re well marked, so you get to decide.”
The Manti-La Sal National Forest covers over a million acres of land and includes three mountain ranges. The La Sal and Abajo ranges provide good hiking, mountain climbing and lovely scenery.
But it is the Wasatch Plateau that attracts visitors for its triple threat combination of camping, fishing and off-road trails, including Skyline Drive, the very back-bone of the plateau.
The national forest affords many dry-camping options; most campsites have a fire ring, picnic table and access to pit toilets. But be sure to bring your own trash bags – its carry-in, carry-out – and plenty of water.
Palisade State Park is another popular campsite, based at a sprawling reservoir with an 18-hole golf course. Here, you’ll find modern restrooms, showers, drinking water and dump stations, as well as nearby OHV access.
A smattering of private campgrounds – from humble to luxurious – round out your options. But no matter where you camp, get ready to rumble, hitting the amazing network of trails.
Once on the Arapeen Trail, you’ll find that Skyline Drive lends sweeping views of rolling ridges and valleys, conifers and aspen, meadows ablaze in mountain wildflowers, and a birder’s delight, with both hawks and eagles lazily adrift.
Since much of the trail system lies on public land, local ranchers hold permits to graze cattle and sheep.
If you encounter livestock gates along the way, leave them the way that you find them.
“The region is a real gem,” McClellan admitted. “In fact, I’m almost afraid to tell people about it because they’ll all want to move here.”
In recent years, the Sanpete County Travel Council acknowledged the region’s special lure to campers and RVers, pushing a campaign to promote the Arapeen Trail as an RVing destination.
“There are lots of forest service campgrounds (for RVers) with tables and firepits, but no hookups,” Kevin Christensen, of the Sanpete County Travel Council.
“There are also the Huntington/ Eccles Canyons Scenic Byway (between the towns of Fairview and Huntington) for RVers to drive up and find places to camp and ride,” he added. “And all of our towns are very ATV friendly.
“In fact, I have an ATV and ride quite often. It’s not uncommon to see lots of people take their RV right on the mountain, particularly where there is open camping.”
In recent years, Christensen has been pleased to see the Arapeen Trail discovered by more young families – one of the fastest-growing demographics of RV buyers.
And when younger RVers come along, their toys usually aren’t far behind, Christensen said. Others find that it’s just as easy to rent ATVs locally.
Riders are encouraged to “tread lightly” on the national forest, packing out garbage and sticking to designated trails. Because elevations rise so high, visitors with respiratory problems or heart conditions should consult a doctor before hitting the trail.
Changing elevations also means temperature fluctuations. Riders can typically find a 20-to-30-degree difference in air temperature along the trail.
It’s not unusual to see a 40-degree temperature change from morning to night. Bring warm clothing for uppermost elevations.
Finally, make sure your ATV is properly jetted for the altitude, and you’re ready to hit the trail.